Thursday, 14 May 2015

Pause for Panama

Enki moored at the BYC at the Pacific entrance to the canal

In the evening, from the mooring field of the Balboa Yacht Club, we watch the bead of light streaming across the Bridge of the Americas. Panama City is notorious for its heavy traffic. Upstream from the bridge are the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal. We've got them behind us. What a good transit it was.

On the Caribbean side, our first advisor Rod (in red tee-shirt) steps aboard

Our two "nesting" companions (above and below)

James and Doreen get the lines ready to raft up

Rod's day job is officer on the tugs - yacht advisory work is done on days off

The Gatun locks - pulling up the lines from the top of the walls

The lock is nearly full ....below, it's full

On the horizon to the south is another dense necklace of lights. Those are the ships mulling about,  waiting to transit the canal from the Pacific. Day and night, they slip past us with their towers of freight, the Panamax and RORO monsters and all shapes and sizes of ship down the scale. Panama funnels the world's shipping. There's more than enough of that to keep the canal open 24 hours. But in between the ships, the Panama canal schedulers must find slots for small boats like ours. Our second advisor (each yacht must have an advisor on board) told us the Panama Canal Authority would much rather yachts went "the other way" i.e. around Cape Horn. Whatever toll a yacht is charged to transit, it never covers costs apparently.

The shipping lane next to the mooring field (and below)

Now that we've been here in Balboa a few days - we are late leaving because of a couple of technical problems - I almost wish we could do the canal all over again. I would see more. I would not be as nervous.

We transited in two parts. For the first part (we left the Flats anchorage ahead of schedule, at around 1630), we were rafted up with two smaller yachts, with Enki in the centre, her engine powering the "nest" through the Gatun locks. The lack of preparedness of the other two yachts, neither of which were in particularly good condition, shocked and rattled us. We had a strong team - the unflappable James and Delvis, experienced line handlers, as well as Doreen and Mike, both good mariners. The other yachts made a much less confident showing with several "line handlers" who didn't seem to know one end of a boat from the other. Backpackers? It happens.

There was serious doubt about the forward cleat on one of the smaller boats. Given an ultimatum from his advisor - fix it, or stop here - the captain sent a capable girl with a tool kit into the anchor locker. The cleat was pronounced acceptable, but a line was run from Enki's forward cleat to the lock wall, just in case.

Alex did the driving, while the other two boats kept their engines running. He was cool, calm and collected (or at least, that was the impression). Michael was everywhere at once. Someone will have to tie that man to the wheel when St Leger transits, Doreen said.

Michael and Doreen, team St Leger

Moored on the Gatun Lake (two NZ-flagged yachts)
After the first couple of locks, the routine on the other two boats settled down. By dusk we were tied to a huge mooring in the Gatun Lakes. Rod, our first advisor, was picked up by the pilot boat before I could get dinner on the table (catering is taken seriously by the agents - we cleared the bar though).  Our second advisor was delivered to us at 0630 and for the next four hours we motored at full throttle across the lake, and then into the Cut. Ships passed all the time in the other direction. Nobody saw any crocodiles. The much-vaunted Panamanian wildlife was having an off-day. But it was fun. Honestly, I'd use that word too.

Going through the Miraflores locks we were rafted up to only one other boat, with a big New Zealand-flagged ketch ahead of us. Perhaps going downhill is always easier, or perhaps we had learned the ropes. It seemed an easier day.

The pictures below tell the rest of the story.

Michael checks the mooring

Early on the second day, the pilot boat returns with new advisors

Crossing Gatun Lake

Canal maintenance
An old canal lighthouse

Traffic in the Galliard Cut 

Centennial Bridge

Looking back to the second Miraflores lock

The last downhill lock at Miraflores

A cleaner nips across the lock gates as they close

Enki passes beneath the observation platform at Miraflores

The water is halfway out....then we're out into the Pacific (below)

A Panamax comes into the canal as we exit

I'm sitting under the clacking ceiling fans of the thatch-roofed, open-sided Balboa Yacht Club, the best vantage point in town from which to watch marine traffic. Alex is doing an oil change. He'll hail a water taxi when he's finished (that service comes with the mooring fee). We won't be budging far from here today. Panama City itself is a taxi ride away. We're well acquainted with taxi protocol now (fares are negotiable, and cheap), having scoured the city for a compact flash adapter for our Pacific Navionics Gold chart - and turned up nothing. Old Technology, we were told, time and again. Haven't seen one of those for a while. We got luckier with the broken generator elbow.

Panama City's needly skyline 

View from San Felipe, the old district

You can walk around most parts of Panama apparently, but not for long because of the heat, and not everywhere because of the bandidos.  It's safe to stroll around the old city of Panama (re-sited in 1673 after Henry Morgan, the pirate, razed the original Panama to the ground in 1671), though its restoration seems to be a stop-start affair. At its back is a neighbourhood heavy with police "presence".

Restoration in the old part of Panama (and below)

The Canal Museum - for Spanish speakers

Lunch -  tasted a lot better than he looked

We'll be on our way as soon as possible. Our timetable is Fedex's at the moment. That pesky adaptor we need is coming from New Hampshire.

1 comment:

  1. welcome back to the Home Ocean! great pics, great story. whaddaya think, was the person who built the dodger for that ovni trying to make something perfectly ugly, or did he just get really lucky??